Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: I was left with little choice but to pull my party out of talks

By Suzanne Breen

DUP leader Arlene Foster has denied her party is intransigent and has claimed she ended the Stormont talks because Sinn Fein wouldn't publicly demonstrate respect for her "British identity and culture".

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Foster said: "Sinn Fein's position has been that devolution can only be restored on their terms. It is one which demands respect but is unwilling to offer it.

"It is a party whose president talks of her 'unionist brothers and sisters' but shouts 'Up the rebels' and 'Tiocfaidh Ar La' at those same brothers and sisters.

"Perhaps it is purely coincidence that the Sinn Fein online bookshop is currently sold out of the Tiochfaidh Ar La badges it stocks. There is no coincidence however in the choice to shape those words on the badge in the image of an Armalite rifle."

She was speaking after DUP MP Gregory Campbell insisted that her leadership was not under threat following the collapse of negotiations to restore power-sharing.

Mr Campbell told BBC Northern Ireland's The View: "Arlene Foster has no difficulty within the party, didn't have any difficulty last weekend, and won't have any difficulty this weekend.

"Any nonsense that people are peddling, that calls into question Arlene Foster's leadership - you really need to get a grip."

The DUP leader also claimed that portraying her party as intransigent "does not withstand basic scrutiny".

She described the Irish language as "part of the cultural fabric of Northern Ireland" and said those who spoke it deserved respect. But she added: "Respect however must be a two-way street and those who do not share the vision outlined by Irish language campaign groups must also be respected."

She maintained that political progress could be built only on an accommodation that could be supported by both unionists and nationalists.

"It will not be achieved by one party demanding progress on their terms alone," she said.

"I wanted this round of negotiations to work. I am disappointed they didn't but I was not prepared to continue in talks where the other participant was not interested in publicly demonstrating respect for my British identity and culture. That's why I led my party out of those talks."

Mrs Foster challenged Sinn Fein's assertion that her party had brokered a draft agreement with it which she then failed to deliver.

"There was no agreement nor draft agreement.

"I never brought any recommendation to my party officers other than to end the current round of negotiations," she said.

"Despite the setbacks I remain committed to securing the restoration of devolution. I will work with anyone prepared to go forward in a spirit of true respect and accommodation. Should Sinn Fein remain committed to their 'ourselves alone' attitude however then it is for the Secretary of State to ensure that Northern Ireland is no longer held to ransom with public services suffering as a result."

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly yesterday called on the British government to release funding for legacy inquests and to begin the consultation on legacy structures agreed at Stormont House.

He said: "Despite the fact that the DUP leadership collapsed the talks to restore the political institutions, victims and survivors of the conflict should not be punished by their failure to close an agreement.

"It is unacceptable that some families have waited more than four decades for this most basic of human rights and the British government should move immediately to bring their suffering to an end."

Belfast Telegraph

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